The researchers found that countries with higher proportions of internet users were linked to lower licensure rates among young people, supporting the theory that virtual contact through electronic devices has decreased the need for young people to get together face to face.
In 1983, 94 per cent of Americans in their 20s has a driver’s licence, compared with 84 per cent today. Meanwhile, one third of drivers in 1983 were under the age of 30, while today that number has shrunk to slightly more than one in five.
The study shows the pattern is repeated in a number of other developed countries, including Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and South Korea, where the number of young drivers has also declined over recent years.
The study supports the findings of a similar study from US technology researcher Gartner in November 2011, who revealed 46 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds would take internet access over a car if they had to choose.
Other countries including Israel, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands have shown an increase in young drivers over the same period, although the rise has been smaller than the increase in older driver numbers.
The researchers said higher societal wealth, ageing populations and a higher proportion of people living in big cities were also related to changes in licensure rates of young people.
They said future age-based licencing trends could have major implications on the nature of future transportation, including transport mode selection, vehicle purchases, safety of travel and its environmental consequences.